Saturday, January 30, 2010

Controversy in Pennsylvania-Ballot Reform

As many of you are undoubtedly already aware, there is quite a controversy brewing in Pennsylvania over a slate of ambitious reforms proposed by MW Thomas Sturgeon. While I certainly have an opinion about what is occurring there, this is an internal matter, and as such, it is not for me to make any suggestions as to how the Brethren of Pennsylvania handle the proposed reforms. The controversy does however draw attention to several important ideas, which are important for all Masons to consider.
One of the proposed reforms involves balloting. In most jurisdictions, one black cube is enough to deny a petitioner entry into the Fraternity. MW Sturgeon is proposing to change this requirement to three black cubes.
We are taught that harmony within a Lodge is extremely important. It is so important, in fact, that even an otherwise worthy candidate should be rejected if his acceptance would endanger this. As a result, unanimity is required to grant a candidate admission. Of course, if a candidate is objectionable enough to merit the casting of a black cube, then the matter should never even come to a vote, and the process should be stopped during the investigation. In theory this system should be held in high sanctity and never abused. In practice, however, this is not always the case.
To illustrate this point, I offer the following example from personal experience: an upstanding young man presented a petition to the Lodge. His father, a Past Master was the sitting Lodge chaplain. The investigating committee performed their duty and gave this young man the highest recommendation. When the time came for the vote, however, he received one black cube, and thus was rejected. Not surprisingly, the Lodge was stunned. If the candidate was truly unworthy, why did the Brother who dropped the black cube not bring his concerns to the Master during the investigation stage, thus sparing the candidate and his father the embarrassment of a negative vote?
As with many things, however, there was more to this case than initially met the eye. Even though Masonic tradition holds that no discussion should be held concerning a ballot, the Brother in question, in a fit of pique, made known his reason for rejecting the candidate. Apparently he had a conflict with the second signer of the young man’s petition. Instead of resolving the conflict in a Masonic fashion, he used the ballot box to exact his revenge. The unfortunate candidate was only incidental to the whole affair. As a result of this, a Lodge that was badly hurting for leadership and new blood lost an excellent candidate and an active Past Master.
Admittedly, cases such as the above are rare. They should be nonexistent. When an errant Brother abuses the ballot box, he not only puts his ego above the future of our Fraternity, but he also shows that he has obviously not taken to heart the lessons that it teaches. Thanks to the one black cube rule, any Brother with a chip on his shoulder can unjustly deny a candidate, and by custom, nothing can be done to stop him. Furthermore, since no discussion is allowed, this act of cowardice can be completely anonymous.
By increasing the number of black cubes required, the chances of this happening are greatly reduced. Rarely will two or more Brothers conspire in this fashion, especially if the reason for rejecting the candidate is completely un-Masonic as in the above case. Implementing this type of reform protects the sanctity of the balloting process rather than violating it as some claim.
Sometimes reform in our Fraternity can be painful. The shrieking choruses of “We’ve never done it that way!” or “This violates tradition!” can be enough to discourage even the most intrepid efforts. Despite this, reform can be worthwhile and even desirable. Ballot reform is one such instance. By instituting a rule requiring more than one black cube to deny a candidate, the sanctity of the ballot is only reinforced. In a perfect world, this would not be necessary, but sometimes even Brother Masons can let their passions get the best of them. With these reforms in place, worthy candidates will hopefully never be denied due to the un-Masonic actions of an egotistical Brother.
So mote it be!

Post script: Luckily, this story has a happy ending, if not for the original Lodge. The candidate waited the requisite time and then resubmitted his petition to the Lodge of his second signer, which happened to be about 40 miles away. He was of course accepted, and he and his father both are active there. In fact, the young man in question progressed through the chairs and is now a Past Master himself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Masonically Inspired Studies-BOTA

“When the ears of the student are ready to hear, then cometh the lips to fill them with Wisdom.”-the Kybalion

In my previous post, I mentioned that Freemasonry has led me to study various esoteric topics. One avenue of study of which I would like to make particular mention involves several of those disciplines.

About two years ago, while reading about our Craft, I came across a mention of Brother Paul Foster Case, and the organization he founded, Builders of the Adytum. Surprised that I had never heard of this, I was instantly intrigued and began delving deeper. Soon I found that this Brother, who had formerly been involved in the Golden Dawn system, created his organization in order to teach some of the important doctrines of the western mystery tradition, particularly those related to qabbalah and tarot. Furthermore, I discovered that BOTA was still extant with an active presence on the internet, and offered their teachings via a correspondence course. At around the same time, I began to see quite a bit of positive discussion about BOTA on the various online Masonic fora that I frequent. I immediately signed up and began following the courses. While my study has been off and on due to a busy life, I have found their teachings to be extremely interesting and worthwhile.

The first course which they offer is entitled “Seven Steps of Practical Occultism” and helps the student lay a foundation for future esoteric studies. While the lessons seem to be somewhat simple, I can attest that the teachings they impart have real power, and if practiced diligently can lead to tangible results. This course leads into “Introduction to Tarot” where the student is given an overview of the Major Arcana of the tarot in preparation for further study in the next course “Fundamentals of Tarot”. In “Fundamentals” the student receives deeper instruction in the symbolism and actually begins working with the cards by coloring them. This is done in order to make the cards more personal as well as to impress one’s own unique vibrations upon them. I have only progressed partially through this course, so I do not know what comes next, but from what I understand, the further courses are quite extensive, and involve several years’ worth of material. If they are anything like what I have already experienced, I can only imagine the wealth of knowledge and practical experience that they will provide.

As I mentioned before, sometimes our Craft can lead us down strange paths that we may never have previously considered. Before I joined our Fraternity, I never would have thought to find myself immersed in such esoteric material, but Freemasonry has awakened in me a burning desire to seek after and study the mysteries. Along the way, my life has been greatly enriched and my mind opened to new horizons that may have otherwise been obscured from my view by the clouds of darkness. Rather than wane, my excitement and enthusiasm for our Craft, and the knowledge it points to has only increased. I hope that this continues for the rest of my Masonic life.
So mote it be!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Can of Worms

Unfortunately, I have again neglected this blog for quite some time. In my defense, I do not have decent internet access here at my location in Afghanistan, although soon that excuse will evaporate as I will be home in a few weeks. Of course, I cannot blame my dearth of output on that factor alone, given the fact that I am a bit of a slacker by nature. However, as many of us do, I have started 2010 with a new resolve and hope to post a bit more frequently. To this end, I offer the following entry:

Can of Worms

In the lecture of the second degree, we are encouraged to make the study of the seven liberal arts and sciences a central part of our Masonic education. Additionally, if one is so inclined Freemasonry can become a gateway into the study of a wealth of esoteric topics which might otherwise escape notice.

In my opinion, this is one of the benefits of our Fraternity. By setting out on the quest for “more Light in Masonry” we may find ourselves open to new vistas of thought that previously were hidden from our view. While the ritual does not always explicitly point towards these things, it can certainly foster a sort of open mindedness to ideas we may never have considered previously. The mysteries of Freemasonry can become like an onion, and as we peel away the layers, we find ever more underneath. Thus the quest for Light becomes a lifelong pursuit, leading us down new and exciting paths along the way.

For me, the Craft has opened up the proverbial “can of worms” and the subjects that have attracted my interest keep multiplying. Thanks to my involvement in Freemasonry, I have become interested in topics ranging from alchemy to rosicrucianism to qabbalah to hermeticism to tarot, and everything in between. My bookshelves are beginning to groan under the weight of the numerous tomes that I have acquired in my quest for Light on these subjects. Sometimes I feel as if the Craft has caused such a great thirst for knowledge that I am trying to slake it by drinking from a fire hose! As a result of all of this, my life has been greatly enriched in a way that I never would have imagined when I first knocked on the Lodge door.

So mote it be!